June 27th, 2011 / 11:31 am
Craft Notes & Random

Summer JMWW: This with That

The new JMWW is a mind-fuck. How so? It gives us an essay (“MFA my way: In Writing, As in Life, You Must Have Character“) by Christine Stewart. She drops us three rules to creating literary work that will, in her words, “…makes my heart beat faster, that promises to cast a spell over me.” This advice:

How to do this? It’s pretty simple but I see people forget these basics all the time:

1) You must have a good handle on your main character.

2) Your main character must want something.

3) Your main character must do something.

I find Stewart’s “cast a spell over me” requirements as a worthy goal for a book. I also look for this type of literature, but I respectfully disagree with Stewart’s advice on how to create such a thing. While I have certainly dropped into fictional dreams due to character development, I have also been spun into spells by glow arrangements of words. Possibly I am confused on genre. Stewart opens with a poetry group situation, but is maybe writing only about mainstream fiction? Anyway, this is why JMWW is a mind-fuck. It’s an interesting essay to place along works (see below, among others) that do not meet the character sketch, character driven, character-with-clear motivation template. This juxtaposition fascinated me, and made for a verve/swerve issue. Click.

That We Never Knew This Reaches Upward, Assists the Room Grew by Andrew Borgstrom

From Michael Palmer vs. Michael Palmer (2) by Michael Leong

Damper by Cooper Renner

Ark Codex 0-01-08 by (?)

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  1. M. Kitchell

      I think the Ark Codex stuff is actually Derek White– he’s talked on his blog how he’s releasing it ‘without’ an author or something?

  2. Leapsloth14

      Ah, my bad. Will fix.


  3. MFBomb

      The problem with Stewart’s “rules”–and they’re rather common rules–is that it implies or suggests that writers should “start” with character, which is a rather rigid and conservative mandate, especially when great characterization can result just as often–if not more often– from the writer focusing on language, imagination, and situation.  In my experiences, the most boring and dull writers are the ones who see characters as more important than fiction’s other equally important elements.

      Here are my three “rules”:

      1) Embrace your imagination.

      2) Don’t worry about what readers like Christine Stewart enjoy as a final product when creating art.

      3) Be flexible enough to understand that characters in fiction are characters, not “real people,” and don’t fall into the trap of taking Stewart’s “rules” so literally that you have some neat, explainable “motivation” or “consequence” each time a character breathes.

      Rick Moody on John Hawke’s teaching “mandates”:

      “don’t settle for the muted palette of contemporary fiction, find what unsettles, what disturbs, what is uncertain, what is paradoxical, what is uncanny, and therefore what articulates character by articulating the limits of character”

      The most interesting fiction, to me at least, is fiction that both has interesting characterization yet somehow “articulates character by” revealing “its limits.”

  4. MFBomb

      *they imply

  5. M. Kitchell
  6. Anonymous

      christine stewart has some pretty ‘traditional’ ideas on writing and we’ve disagreed on some of them but she’s also open to to others doing their own aesthetic thing. eg, she organizes an all day reading marathon on new year’s day that has all manner of crazy stuff in it.

  7. Seife

      yawn; get some work dude.

  8. Leapsloth14

      How is it a conceptual move if everyone knows the author? That’s like calling your visual art “untitled” but then everyone viewing it knows it has an actual title. I don’t get it.

  9. Leapsloth14

      I like the traditional ideas with nontraditional contained in the same package. I like that frisson.

  10. MFBomb

      “Get some work”? What’s that supposed to mean? I worked all day, and I fail to see what your post has to do with anything I wrote.

  11. M. Kitchell

      from here: http://5cense.com/11/Voynich.htm  & http://5cense.com/11/Beinecke_artichoke.htm

      who knows what the original intention of the author was & who cares. rumors abound as to authorship: Francis Bacon, Leonardo Da Vinci, Voynich, John Dee [my gut feeling if i had to pick one]—but what’s interesting to me is not who wrote it, but why his or her name is not on it, whether this was intentional or not. maybe they just didn’t think to, maybe it was intended to be private, or maybe they deliberately chose not to, or maybe they did, but it was erased.


      seeing some cool art in Indonesia once i inquired as to the artists & the gallery owners shrugged their shoulders—maybe one person worked on it some, then a few others, it didn’t matter. they felt no need to put their names on paintings & this struck me. & when i got some drawings on our recent trip to India it was the same story. of course you could argue that a lack of an «artist» demotes the art to being that of a «craft». but the art is in the eye of the beholder & the only thing being beheld is the art object, so the only «artist» there is once the object is created, is on the receiving end. in the case of science, it’s the discovery that matters, not who «discovered» it [or put into language fit for human understanding]. in the case of a book, the published object is all that matters. the information conveyed is at the heart of it. the art is in the presentation, the display. we are merely disposable beings whose biology was driven by the needs of this information to propagate in an artful form. contemporary music is ahead of the other arts in this regard, in the recent trend to have «projects», a person, or people that get together to make an album or a song & then perhaps regroup into something else, so what becomes important is the project, not the people behind it. & regardless, both are façades, scaffolding that crumbles away when finished. at the end of the day all that’s left is the song. artists die, but the songs remain the same.

  12. MFBomb

      By the way, I don’t speak or read Dude Bro.  Please troll in regular English.

  13. MFBomb

      By the way, I don’t speak or read Dude Bro.  Please troll in regular English.

  14. Leapsloth14


  15. Terrybear


  16. deadgod

      Yes, that ‘advice’ was not connected to your ideas, and can’t have been likely to be founded on an accurate assumption.

      What does it mean when you ask whether posters “have a job”?

  17. Janey Smith


  18. Chris

      Oh my, quite a discussion! My goal was to focus on one reason why the books I’ve been reading lately have fallen short of the mark. Paying attention to character is one place for such focus. It’s the first in a regular series on craft so there’s more to come for everyone to dislike. :) I didn’t say ‘rules’ I said ‘basics.’ Also, I opened with a story about my poetry group going to buy books after we met and how I’m usually disappointed in what I purchased because of the character issue. Context. Context.  Surely there are more serious things to be up in arms about? But thanks for the initial positive read on the essay. 

  19. MFBomb

      Touche.  I can see now that I took your comments out-of-context, and that you were talking more from the perspective of a reader.

  20. Leapsloth14

      I liked your essay fine, and the works in JMWW. What I most liked was the fascinating juxtaposition of the two.